At least two activists from Delhi’s Khureji Khas area, who were arrested from an anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protest site on Wednesday afternoon, have been physically tortured in judicial custody, according to their family members. They have also been booked for rioting, attempting to murder a police official, and possessing and using firearms, which their families and other protesters claim are false and unsubstantiated charges.
The activists, Ishrat Jahan and Khalid Saifi, had been at the forefront of the Khureji Khas sit-in protest against the Citizenship Act since it began on January 13. While Ishrat Jahan is a lawyer and former municipal councillor from the Congress party, Saifi is a businessman and a well-known local activist with a non-profit platform called United Against Hate.
Both were produced before a magistrate at 10 pm on Wednesday, along with a third arrested activist, Sabu Ansari. They were then remanded to 14 days of judicial custody in Mandoli jail, where the alleged custodial torture took place.
“When they were produced in court, Khalid was in a wheelchair with bandages on both his legs,” said Nargis Saifi, Khalid Saifi’s wife. Ishrat Jahan, meanwhile, had bandages on her hand. “They were both perfectly healthy when they were arrested, and my husband told me he was tortured a lot in jail.”
According to Nargis and Ishrat Jahan’s sister, Sarwer Jahan, both activists were at their respective homes at around 1 pm on Wednesday when they received urgent calls from some protesters present at the site.
“They said that the police had come with guns and tear gas to evacuate the protesters,” said Nargis. On hearing the news, Khalid, Nargis and Ishrat Jahan rushed towards the Khureji Khas site where a large tent and a makeshift gate had been set up for protesters on an empty plot off the road. The protesters had dispersed by the time the Saifis reached the spot, said Nargis.
“When we reached there, Khalid asked me to stand back and he went forward to talk to some policemen and request them not to destroy the protest site,” Nargis told Scroll.in. “He was unarmed and very polite but they immediately snatched his phone and then took him away.” In a video shared shot by a spectator from a neighbouring building, Khalid Saifi can be seen trying to talk to police personnel while they grab his phone.
When Ishrat Jahan reached the road outside the protest site, she too was arrested immediately. In a video, a group of four male and female police personnel can be seen roughly pushing her into a police car. Along with Khalid Saifi and Ishrat Jahan, another activist named Sabu Ansari was also arrested and taken to Jagatpuri police station.
“The police did not allow us to go meet them all day, and when a group of lawyers went to get them released, the police beat them up also,” said Sarwer Jahan, a lawyer and Ishrat Jahan’s sister.
On Wednesday afternoon, Scroll.in had reported that police had lathi-charged a team of lawyers from the Indian Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Law Network when they went to the Jagatpuri police station to secure the activists’ release. Female lawyers were roughed up by male police officials and lawyer Anas Tanwir claimed he was hit on the head.
In the first information report against Saifi, Ishrat Jahan and 12 others, accessed by Scroll.in, the Jagatpuri police claims that on February 26, they were trying to convince a group of people near the Khureji Khas protest site to leave from the area, when they heard commotion and sounds of firing from the protest site. When the police reached the site, the FIR claims that there was a large crowd gathered there which refused to leave even when the police appealed to them on a loudspeaker to evacuate the protest.
According to the FIR, Ishrat Jahan told the protesters to remain seated and raised slogans about taking “azadi” at any cost and staying put no matter what the police did. Khalid Saifi, the FIR claims, incited the crowds to pelt stones at the police. At this, the police alleged that several protesters began throwing stones at the police and “one person in the crowd fired a shot at head constable Yograj, who just managed to escape”.
To control the situation, the police claimed it used “appropriate force” including using tear gas and firing shots in the air to disperse the crowd. The FIR also claimed that a police official named Vinod Kumar was injured by a protester.
Protesters present at the site, however, refuted the police’s version of events and claimed that every detail in the FIR is untrue.
“There was no big crowd at the protest site to begin with, because it was afternoon and all the men were at work, and we were just eight or ten women sitting there,” said Farzana, one of the protesters who wished to be identified only by her first name. “When the police came they never talked to us or asked us to leave – they just barged in and started tearing down our tent and posters.”
Farzana claims she and the other women were terrified and begged the police to let them gather their Qurans. “When we asked them why they were breaking everything, they pointed guns at us, started throwing tear gas and we also heard a gunshot at some point,” she said.
In a video shared on Facebook, the police can be seen vandalising a protest site from the inside and outside. In another video shared with Scroll.in, a group of police officials can be seen running down the road with guns and pointing them at unseen people, after which one gunshot can be heard.
“Ishrat Jahan and Khalid bhai were not there at the protest site this whole time – they reached after we left and got arrested for no reason,” said Farzana.
Sarwer Jahan, too, blamed the police for drawing up a “completely false FIR”. “They have charged my sister and Khalid Saifi with attempt to murder and sections under the Arms Act, just as a means to pressurise and scare people,” she said. “They will not be able to prove any of this in court.”
The evacuation of the Khureji Khas protest and the arrest of the activists comes in the midst of violent mob attacks across North East Delhi – mostly targeted at Muslims – in which 37 people have been killed so far.